Redirection as a Form of Discipline for Your Preschooler

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Many parents are familiar with the scenario: Your preschooler is happily playing with some building blocks and attempting to construct a tall tower. After some effort, the building your child has so carefully constructed topples over. Rather than asking for your help in rebuilding the tower, they instead start throwing a major temper tantrum (as well as some of the blocks). How should you react to this behavior?

How to React to a Temper Tantrum 

Certainly, you could scold them, or you could put them in a time-out, or you could even yell at them. These methods are common and often effective. However, these strategies have only been shown to be effective for the short-term.

There is an alternative option, though. Next time your child breaks out in a temper tantrum, try redirecting them—drawing their attention to something else and focusing that negative energy on something positive.

Redirection as Discipline

Redirection is a classic form of discipline, one that works especially well with younger children who might not necessarily understand or listen to reason and logic.

To put it simply, redirection is taking an emotionally charged situation and diffusing it, thereby removing any lingering hard feelings. The energy and hard feelings from a negative situation like a temper tantrum are channeled elsewhere or redirected. 

Refocusing From Negative to Positive 

Redirection takes a negative situation and morphs it into a positive one. In the example above, a form of redirection would be to sit down next to your child and say, "I see you are having trouble with getting that building to stay standing up. Why don't we try to build a zoo or a park instead? We can put your toy animals inside when we are finished." Or, "Throwing blocks is never a good idea—someone could get hurt or something could break. How about we head outside and throw the ball to each other?"

In the war between your child and the block tower, think of yourself as a neutral third party, there to broker some peace, while also teaching your child important life lessons. 

Dealing with Tantrums in the Heat of the Moment

Certainly, you still need to let your child know that the particular behavior that they are engaging in is not acceptable. In the heat of the moment, while your child is clearly angry and frustrated, redirection allows you to stop the negative behavior and change it to something that's safe and more constructive. This allows you to let your child know that the way that they are acting is not acceptable, while also providing an alternative. As a result, redirection provides an opportunity to both correct and teach.

In general, children respond better to positive reinforcement than negative reinforcement—redirection does that while still subtly disciplining, letting your child know that what they are doing is not acceptable and giving them an example of a behavior that is more acceptable. At the same time, redirection is also a great mood changer—by providing a new positive activity for your child to focus on, they can take their feelings of anger and let them transform into happiness.

1 Source
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  1. Nieman P, Shea S, Canadian Paediatric Society, Community Paediatrics Committee. Effective discipline for childrenPaediatr Child Health. 2004;9(1):37-50. doi:10.1093/pch/9.1.37

By Amanda Rock
Amanda Rock, mom of three, has spent more than a decade of her professional career writing and editing for parents and children.